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June 24, 2008

Project Kashmir, 2008

project_kashmir.gifThe specter of the Partition of Bengal in 1947 continues to haunt the modern day consciousness of a divided Kashmir in Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel's provocative and acutely observed Project Kashmir. Propelled by the idea of capturing the Kashmir conflict from a Hindu and Muslim perspective, Southeast Asian-American friends Kheshgi and Patel attempt to navigate the murky waters of occupation and a deeply factionalized insurgency - often fueled by extremists - that define the volatile dynamics of everyday life in Kashmir. Guided on their journey by a Muslim newspaper journalist, Muzamil Jaleel (who immediately cautions them against taking anyone's perspective as truth, including his own), his friend and colleague, Aarti Tikoo Singh, a displaced Pandit Hindu now living in Jammu, and human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, who lost his leg in a car bombing, the filmmakers witness first hand the incalculable toll of the corrosive 60 year war: the almost ritualistic, random detention of local villagers at a detention facility each morning to root out possible insurgents, the profound distrust not only between the majority Muslim population and the Indian military who administer the region, but also within the population itself, the ruins of a destroyed Hindu temple and abandoned Pandit village after the intimidation and forced expulsion of the Pandit minority a decade earlier from the Kashmiri Valley. But as the filmmakers begin to struggle with the human tendency to gravitate towards the familiarity of their own culture, Patel becomes increasingly conscious of her identity as an Indian and Hindu woman in a Muslim society, and Kheshgi, the daughter of parents who lived through the trauma of the Partition, finds kinship with the struggle to end the occupation. In hindsight, the filmmakers' unorthodox contact with an anonymous guide who offers his candid, protective advice solely by telephone provides an insightful glimpse into the necessary first steps towards breaking the impasse, a bridging of broken bonds through communication and gestures of humanity that is poignantly captured during Singh's emotional return to her decimated childhood home where she is eagerly invited to tea by a persistent villager, who responds to the question of his immediate recognition of his former neighbor by remarking, "the scent of Kashmiri is the scent of one."

Posted by acquarello on Jun 24, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Human Rights Watch


This is the only film on Kashmir that has permitted the space for diverse perspectives and conflicting sentiments. The film doesn't offer any solutions nor does it search the causes of the conflict. But it is Kashmir valley as it is, its people as they are- torn by the conflict, and torn by their opinions. A beautiful human presentation of the reality!

Posted by: Irfana on Jul 09, 2008 1:53 PM | Permalink

I wholeheartedly agree, Irfana. It doesn't try to be political, it just shows the situation, and a glimpse of how people can move past the disagreements by reaching out to each other.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Jul 09, 2008 8:14 PM | Permalink

Acquarello, this is showing in Los Angeles in a couple weeks in a qualifying run for the Oscars (along with Davies' Of Time and the City!)...it and Ellen Kuras' The Betrayal (which I was planning to see anyway) seem to be the only titles from the HRW series, but it also sounds like a fascinating work all its own?

Posted by: Doug Cummings on Aug 08, 2008 11:47 AM | Permalink

Hi Doug, the HRWIFF series was a little thin this year (they ended up showing some older films to fill slots), but this was definitely one of the highlights. The lack of easy solutions would probably make it a harder sell to the Academy, but hey, I'm an eternal optimist. By the way, are you going to see Dear Zachary? I've been waiting for an opportunity to see that.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Aug 08, 2008 5:21 PM | Permalink

I had wondered about Dear Zachary. I admit I'm growing a little weary of all the first-person therapeutic documentaries that seem to be made these days. That's not a dismissal, I just find myself gravitating more toward ones that are more cinematically adventurous in addition to sharing their stories. Have you any inkling of the visual style of the film?

Posted by: Doug Cummings on Aug 10, 2008 11:10 AM | Permalink

Ah, good point. The positive reactions on the film have definitely been on the visceral response side because of the subject matter, and you don't really get a good sense of the style from the trailer. On the other hand, Kuenne is a somewhat established independent filmmaker, so I'm guessing that this one would not look so home made as some of these confessional, DIY documentaries that have been cropping up.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 10, 2008 5:55 PM | Permalink

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